Hedrick Smith, a former correspondent and Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, is the author of “Who Stole the American Dream?”
IN the rancorous debate over how to get the sluggish economy moving, we have forgotten the wisdom of Henry Ford. In 1914, not long after the Ford Motor Company came out with the Model T, Ford made the startling announcement that he would pay his workers the unheard-of wage of $5 a day.
Not only was it a matter of social justice, Ford wrote, but paying high wages was also smart business. When wages are low, uncertainty dogs the marketplace and growth is weak. But when pay is high and steady, Ford asserted, business is more secure because workers earn enough to become good customers. They can afford to buy Model Ts.
This is not to suggest that Ford single-handedly created the American middle class. But he was one of the first business leaders to articulate what economists call “the virtuous circle of growth”: well-paid workers generating consumer demand that in turn promotes business expansion and hiring. Other executives bought his logic, and just as important, strong unions fought for rising pay and good benefits in contracts like the 1950 “Treaty of Detroit” between General Motors and the United Auto Workers....